HABBANIYAH, Iraq -- Marines with 9th Engineer Support Battalion responded to the threat of insurgent attacks against Iraqi security forces by installing force-protection barriers at a police headquarters here Oct. 13 to 15.
A team of 40 combat engineers placed and filled more than 700 feet of barriers around the compound, working nonstop to help protect Iraqi police against suicide car bombs and small-arms fire.
The barriers will help prevent attacks from vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, an insurgent tactic that has been on the rise since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Gunnery Sgt. John H. Kroll, platoon sergeant with Company B, 9th ESB, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward).
The engineers and heavy-equipment operators also erected security posts for the Habbaniyah police force at key vantage points in the compound.
“The Marines work as quickly as they can but still get the job done with the quality we need,” said Lance Cpl. Daniel J. Lepper, a team leader with Company B.
Lepper, a 22-year-old from Goshen, Ind., supervises the team responsible for reinforcing open windows around the construction site. This is part of the force-protection mission, he said, and helps guard against small-arms fire from vacant buildings nearby. His team operates on a principle that is echoed throughout the battalion.
“Marine engineers are centered on the concept of small-unit leadership,” explained Kroll, a 33-year-old from Valparaiso, Ind. “There can’t be delay and there can’t be hesitation. It’s been drilled into these Marines’ heads and they execute every time.”
By providing a safer working environment, the project helps bring new Iraqi police officers to the force, he added. Top military officials agree that bolstering local law enforcement is essential to the security of Iraq.
“(The Iraqi police) greeted us with open arms,” said Kroll. “They’re happy to see someone come out here and make their area safer.” The battalion previously installed force protection at another Habbaniyah police department, but this was their first project in that specific compound.
As engineers made the compound safer for Iraqi police, Marines with Security Platoon protect the construction site. The platoon arrived at the site early to block off alleyways and streets insurgents could use in an attack.
“We put our vehicles in place to form the safest worksite for our Marines,” said Staff Sgt. Ramon D. Rivera II, a platoon sergeant and staff noncommissioned officer in charge of Security Platoon, Engineer Support Company. “We’re the first on the scene, and if we find an IED or take small-arms fire, we’ll diffuse the situation.”
They stood watch throughout the three-day mission. For the Marine behind the gun, staying awake and alert is paramount.
“I just think about my family and how I’m going to come home to them,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew M. Holmans, a 20-year-old from North Richland Hills, Texas. “I also think of the Marines around me, because if I don’t stay awake on the gun, it’s their lives as well as mine.” Holmans is both a heavy-equipment mechanic and an assistant gunner with Security Platoon.
The security element remained watchful from vehicle turrets and rooftops as engineers and heavy-equipment operators worked through rain and darkness to complete the project.
“The reason we’re so successful is because of the Marines,” said Rivera, 33, from Cincinnati. “I’m here to make sure they get chow; they’re the ones making it happen.”
“Making it happen” meant getting in and getting out as quickly and quietly as possible, improving working conditions for Iraqi police forces and keeping the area safe for local citizens.
“I was very impressed with their performance,” said Kroll. “We’re in a tactical yet cooperative setting, and we’re striving to be minimally disruptive to (the Iraqis’) daily lives.”
In addition to construction projects, the battalion performs route-repair and clearance operations throughout Al Anbar Province almost daily. The Marines are scheduled to return from deployment in March.